For the first time in almost two decades, the New England Patriots are not favored to win the AFC East. They’ve bested their divisional foes in 16 of the last 17 seasons (including 11 straight), though this season, the division appears to be wide open with Tom Brady leaving for the NFC. That, combined with a deluge of COVID opt-outs for the Pats, gives the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins a hope that they haven’t had in years.
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Can Buffalo Claim the Division?
- Division Odds: +120
If the Bills are going to make a run at the title, QB Josh Allen is going to have to make a notable improvement in the passing game. The addition of Stefon Diggs gives Allen, by far, the best downfield threat he has had in his third season. But if Allen’s accuracy doesn’t improve, Buffalo will not be able to capitalize on Diggs’ playmaking ability.
Other key additions include E.J. Gaines and Josh Norman. The duo fortifies an already above-average secondary. Mario Addison was also added to help the pass rush alongside Ed Oliver and Shaq Lawson. The defense is strong at all levels and should keep this team in many of its games and help cover up some of Josh Allen‘s shortcomings.
*All odds via DraftKings.
Should We Count Out the Patriots?
- Division Odds: +130
The New England Patriots enter this season in uncharted territory. If you haven’t been living under a heavy object then you already know that Brady left Boston to run the ship in Tampa Bay.
As if that wasn’t a big enough blow to the Pats, eight players opted out for the upcoming season. Just to put that into perspective, no other team had more than three opt-outs due to COVID. And the players that opted out include some pretty big names, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The biggest of which is Dont’a Hightower; it’ll put 2019’s top scoring defense to the test.
While it looks like doom and gloom in NE, they did go out and sign free agent QB Cam Newton. The biggest question is which version of Cam did the Patriots get? Did they get the former 2015 MVP or did they get the banged-up version of Cam that hobbled into 2019 and eventually opting for surgery? All reports thus far claim that Cam Newton is healthy and hungry. If he is even close to his former MVP status, this could be a home run for Bill Belichick and as great as Brady is, one thing he is not is mobile, so Josh McDaniels could be licking his chops at the opportunity to open up the playbook with his shiny new toy.
Miami Dolphins: Dark Horse Division Contender?
- Division Odds: +800
The Miami Dolphins entered 2019 without much hope. They traded away almost all of their talent before the season began, coining the phrase “Tanking for Tua”. Amid their 0-7 start, the same narrative followed them in every football conversation. But first-year head coach Brian Flores never got the memo as he turned the franchise around in a major way, including shocking New England late in the season in a game that the Patriots needed to win for playoff implications.
They still ended up getting Tua Tagovailoa with the sixth pick…Oh the irony!! The Dolphins, in an effort to build on the momentum from the 2019 season, have had a fantastic offseason. Two of their biggest player pickups include Kyle Van Noy from New England and Jordan Howard from Philadelphia…but I believe their biggest acquisition could be offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. Adding Gailey to the coaching staff reunites him with Ryan Fitzpatrick and they are hopeful that this rejuvenates Fitzmagic as he posted one of his best seasons ever under Gailey with the NY Jets in 2011.
Any Hope for the Jets?
- Division Odds: +850
Speaking of the NY Jets, they are also in the AFC East. The Jets, at odds of (+850) do not provide enough value to even consider them winning this division.
Hypothetically, what would they need to accomplish that feat? They will certainly need QB Sam Darnold to remain healthy to even compete this year. When Darnold missed three games in 2019 due to injury last season, the QB play was bad on a historic level as New York went 0-3 without their former No. 3 overall pick.
New York signed Joe Flacco to back up Darnold but Flacco is well past his prime. The addition of Breshad Perriman may not negate the loss of speedster, Robby Anderson. They pick up Denzel Mims in the draft and if he can get healthy, he may be the game-breaker they haven’t had in NY in some time. They also improved at OL by selecting Mekhi Becton out of Louisville with the 11th pick in the draft. And the addition of George Fant from Seattle will help an improved offensive line. But have they made enough improvements? We’ll see.
Best Bet to Win the Division?
As far as the betting market goes, the only value I can see, as far as a division winner would be on the Miami Dolphins at +800.
Backing the Bills at +120 with Josh Allen at the helm isn’t ideal and there’s not much value in the Patriots at +130 with a decimated roster. If you’re looking for value, the Dolphins are a no brainer. With a second-year coach that appears to have found his way, a team that showed tremendous improvement over the course of the 2019 season and had a fantastic offseason, all signs are pointing up for Miami in 2020. In a year that it appears anyone could take the division, my money is on the Miami Dolphins.
More Bets to Consider
A couple of other plays that I like in this upcoming season include Bill Belichick for the Coach of the Year award If the Patriots can make the postseason—given the hand he’s been dealt— he has to be in consideration for the award. At odds of 12-1, I think there is value in this bet.
I will also be betting the NY Jets under 6.5 wins. In looking over the Jets schedule, I cannot see them winning more than four games. They’re out of division schedule is just brutal. Even if they can steal four games in the AFC East (highly doubtful), I can’t see them winning seven games. The NY Jets may be an improved team but the scheduling gods were not fair to the J-E-T-S this season.
One other prop I like for 2020 is Cam Newton over 2950.5 passing yards. If you think he can stay healthy, this is a no brainer. DraftKings posted Cam as the lowest prop total for passing yards of all listed QBs. Cam has never had a season with lower than 3,127 passing yards prior to his injury-shortened season last year. With all reports that he is healthy leading into week 1 and with McDaniels in his corner, he could eclipse this total with room to spare.